The term “chamber of commerce” often evokes a broad range of images that run the gamut from a nation’s tourism industry to its economic dealings on U.S. soil.
A chamber’s staff members and volunteers, consequently, serve as goodwill ambassadors of sorts for its image in our backyards. This is certainly true for several America-Israel Chambers of Commerce that operate independently but share some common goals.
When you take a more in-depth look at what Israel has contributed to the world of science, technology and, ultimately, consumer products, these organizations’ alliances with a “Buy Israel” campaign makes perfect sense.
While Israeli-made kosher foods and wines for holiday and family celebrations are readily available, there are many “everyday” products and services originating in Israel some may find surprising.
Did you know that wares from household staples like Black & Decker and Stanley are manufactured in Israel? Furthermore, were you aware that Israeli goods are found in plain sight at Target, Home Depot, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Sears, Brooks Brothers and even Walmart?
With the goal of expanding word on Israeli brands available in the American market, the Buy Israeli Goods (BIG) website (www.buyisraelgoods.org ) — launched by Chicago-based businessman and former America-Israel Chamber of Commerce-Chicago president Howard Bernstein — has endeavored to help connect products, technologies and services to consumers throughout the United States.
The site, launched in 2002, is broken down by metropolitan regions, and, according to Bernstein, reaches up to 75 percent of the American Jewish market.
“BIG is a non-profit site that encourages people to buy Israeli products and facilitate that by making available the names of retail outlets and businesses,” says Bernstein. “We started out with a handful of major markets and have since expanded it to 24 market areas nationwide. Anybody who visits the site will gain access to sellers of various made-in-Israel products.”
Connection among chambers and offices across the country is maintained in an informal and informational manner. Even though they function separately, several of them put in an effort to spread the word on Israeli products and innovations via BIG, both on a business-to-consumer basis and a business-to-business basis.
“Campaigns like BIG are effective because it is a very visible way for Americans to show that the success of Israel is very important to them,” says Debbie Buchwald, executive director of the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce. “As a chamber, we act as a network that creates business relationships between our U.S. regions and Israel. While the Israeli government is aware that the economy alone is not going to change the world perception of Israel, design, bio-technology and other products have done more to change people’s individual perceptions of Israel than many other things.”
Tom Glaser, president of the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce Southeast Region, notes that their collaborations with Bernstein have been so successful that outside of New York City, the web page covering Atlanta and the rest of the U.S. Southeast is the most visited on the BIG site.
This is no small feat, as six states (Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee) are included in the region, and there is much information to gather and update.
When Glaser’s office started working with Bernstein, he explains, they reached out to Jewish federations, organizations and communities in those states to investigate where Israeli-made products could be purchased. They also contacted distributors of Israeli products to find out which retailers were carrying their products in the states’ larger cities.
The effort has a grass roots feel to it, as Glaser cites as an example a collaboration with the Birmingham, Ala., Jewish Federation, which has some of its members keeping their eye out for Israeli goods.
When they spot the goods, they report it to the Federation office, which in turn, passes it on to Glaser’s office and then Bernstein, who then updates the database.
Of course, you will find the buyisraeligoods.org button prominently displayed on the front page of the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce-Chicago, which is helmed by Michael Schmitt.
“If an Israeli product boycott comes up in our market, we will announce to our membership that they should keep their support for Israel strong, look at the current information in their area on the Israeli products listed at BIG, and then counter (the boycott) through their continued support of those brands.”
This article originally appeared in "Buy Israel Week," a speecial section.